Looking for Delvin

25 years after his passing, Delvin Miller’s influence still felt in racing and beyond

by John Sacco and Kathy Parker

But Miller’s legacy goes beyond the great horses he trained and raced. He shaped the sport off the racetrack as well and signs of that can still be seen, 25 years after his passing.Hall of Famer Delvin Miller died Aug. 19, 1996, at the age of 83. What he did on the harness track in terms of driving and training has long been revered and memorialized.

In 1947 Miller purchased Meadow Lands Farm in Meadow Lands, Pa., and converted the former dairy farm into a breeding operation that was put on the Standardbred breeding map by the great progenitor Adios. In 1963, following the legalization of pari-mutuel harness racing in Pennsylvania, Miller founded The Meadows racetrack a short distance from the farm.

Through his vast network of friends and associates in the sports and entertainment worlds, he revolutionized equipment, tied harness racing to other industries, and brought together the most popular icons to fortify his sport and legacy.

“Delvin kind of brought harness racing into the entertainment world,” said Roger Huston, long-time track announcer at The Meadows and currently brand ambassador for the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association. “He had so many friends in the entertainment and sports world: Chet Atkins; Buffalo Bob Smith; Eddie Arcaro; (big-league baseball players) Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola, Whitey Ford, Stan Musial; and champion golfer Arnold Palmer and on and on,” said Huston.

“Because of those relationships, Delvin did a lot for harness racing back then.”

Huston cited an appearance Miller made on the “Today Show,” then hosted by Garagiola, that brought attention to the sport when Miller taught Garagiola how to drive a harness horse live from Pompano Park. Miller also appeared on the popular national TV show “To Tell The Truth,” where contestants had to correctly guess a person’s occupation.

Iconic baseball executive and Pirates general manager Branch Rickey Sr., whose keen, perceptive mind introduced many innovations to baseball, purchased the patent for new helmets that he introduced to the Pirates and baseball in 1953. The first professional baseball team to wear the helmets was New Orleans, a Pirates minor league affiliate. The American Baseball Cap Inc. was formed. The new caps were made of fiberglass–polyester material, weighing 8½ ounces. Miller worked with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers to conceptualize and then introduce new protective helmets for harness drivers, improving safety.

Several of Miller’s helmets are in the “Eight Decades Room” at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village in Avella, Pa., which chronicles the late Hall of Famer’s career.

“We do have a framed picture for (Miller’s) ‘Eight Decades’ room exhibit that is an advertisement for the type of helmet he endorsed from American Baseball Cap Inc. in Pittsburgh, and a photo of himself showing the renowned European driver Charlie Mills in his new helmet,” said David R. Scofield, director of Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village.

While Meadowcroft documents very old times in western Pennsylvania, Miller also had a bit of a hand in one of the most dynamic developments in the south Pittsburgh suburbs today, the 589-acre Southpointe complex, where 15,000 work and 1,000 reside. Jack Piatt Sr., a friend of Miller’s who owned Standardbreds and bought Meadow Lands Farm when Miller and his wife, Mary Lib, decided to downsize, spearheaded the Southpointe development.While The Meadows is still a vibrant part of harness racing, and the blood of Adios continues to course through the Standardbred breed, Miller’s most tangible legacy outside of the Standardbred world is the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village (see story opposite).

Piatt Sr., who died last fall, once recalled that he was driving by the land off Interstate 79 with Miller in the late 1980s when Miller suggested, “We should build a golf course here.” A golf course is indeed part of the Southpointe area, with professional tournaments having been held through the years.

Ellen Harvey, whose harness Hall of Fame father, Harry, worked for Miller and was a great friend, said Miller’s reach was amazing.

“Delvin was a big proponent of the amateur driving series that endures today,” said Harvey, who herself is a long-time executive, publicist, writer, director and harness industry advocate. “He also was a huge Currier & Ives print collector. Delvin would drive around looking for auctions with Currier & Ives prints. He had so many interests that shaped everything in his life.”

You could say that Miller never retired from harness racing. In 1985, at age 72, he formed an amateur drivers’ association to promote harness racing among amateur drivers. In 1988 at the Meadowlands, the 75-year-old Miller, in a high-wheel sulky, broke a 97-year trotting record by driving Keystone Investor to a mile in 2:04.

In addition to promoting amateur driving, Miller began the sport’s recognition of caretakers through Harness Tracks of America, which continues today under the auspices of the U.S. Harness Writers Association. HB

John Sacco is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

 

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